During Friday's rematch in the Cherokee County Tournament, the Panthers once again built a big lead, but this time they were able to maintain it.
An 8-0 run out of the gate and an 11-0 run to end the first half helped Spring Garden earn a 67-45 victory.
"I think we just played with a little more intensity," Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said when contrasting the two games. "I didn't think when we went to their place that we played with a sense of urgency. We just kind of played soft and Sand Rock took it to us. I just questioned 'Why wouldn't you play with a sense of urgency?'
"I might have done a little better job of preparing this bunch for this game than I did at their place. We had a lengthy practice (Friday). We had an hour practice, then sent them to eat, then brought them back in and went again with game plan stuff. The things we talked about really did pay off. That was really the only difference."
The win propels the Panthers (12-8) to Saturday's championship game at 8:30 p.m. Spring Garden will face the winner of Saturday's first session game between top-seeded Cedar Bluff and No. 4 Cherokee County. That game is set for 10:30 a.m. at the Gadsden State-Cherokee Arena.
"It's the championship game, so yes, we feel good about it," Austin said. "We were talking before the game, 'When's the last time ya'll played in a championship game?' We had kind of a makeshift B-team the last two years that made it to the championship game (in the county).
"Not knocking what they accomplished, but we've come over here to win a varsity county championship, and we haven't won one since 1998. We've talked for two years about creating opportunities for ourselves and how good teams take advantage of their opportunities. This team has won some games throughout the season, and they've got a higher seed so they could get in this spot. The opportunity is there."
It took a collective effort by the Panthers to earn that opportunity Austin talked about.
Junior guard Jay Prater set the tone from the get-go for a the Panthers . He connected on a pair of 3-pointers early in the first quarter as part of an 8-0 run. The Panthers maintained a 15-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, then scored the last 11 points in the second to push their advantage to 39-22 at halftime.
Unlike their first meeting with Sand Rock (8-12), the Panthers didn't let up. They held a 54-33 advantage after three quarters.
"They played well and we didn't," Sand Rock coach Brian Mackey said. "We didn't show up. We've got a lot of work to do to get better."
Senior guard Josh Hale led Spring Garden with 16 points, five assists and a pair of steals. Senior center Jake Grogan netted 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Senior guard Logan Whorton and junior forward Will Westbrook both contributed 13 points. Westbrook also posted nine boards. Prater finished with six points and junior point guard Will Ivey came away with four points and five assists.
"That's all this bunch is needing is some confidence," Austin said. "We've finally got over some sickness and some injuries. I thought we were about to hit this curve right before Christmas break, but the flu hit, Jake Grogan got hurt, and we had some kids with shin splints. It set us back. We basically went two weeks where we didn't accomplish anything, but now we're starting to have some kids healthy. If they just played with a little bit more toughness and meanness, they could be really good."
Junior guard Dylan Mackey led Sand Rock with 14 points. Senior forward Devon Howard had eight points. Sophomore guard Chase Garrett and freshman guard Caylon Simpson both finished with seven points.
Cherokee County boys 85, Gaylesville boys 34
CENTRE - Even with two of their top contributors in Tony Pruitt and Darius Covington on the bench for disciplinary reasons, the Cherokee County Warriors had little trouble advancing in their opening game of the Cherokee County Tournament against Gaylesville on Friday.
Senior guard JoJo Diamond netted 45 points, including six 3-pointers in the third quarter alone, to pace Cherokee County to an 85-34 victory.
The Warriors (5-14) advance to Saturday's 10:30 a.m. semifinal game against top-seeded Cedar Bluff. The winner will face Spring Garden in the county championship game at 8:30 p.m.
Diamond, who had 22 points at halftime, also finished with eight rebounds, seven steals and two assists. Sophomore guard Trenton Edwards posted 11 points and six assists. Senior guard Josh Higgins added nine points, six boards and four assists. Senior guard Alex Moon finished with eight points, four boards and three assists.
Gable Lawson led the Trojans (3-12) with 18 points. Dylan Cavin netted eight points and Cole Murphy finished with six points.
Cherokee County took a 20-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and led 45-20 at halftime. The Warriors led 74-24 at the end of three quarters.
Cedar Bluff girls 48, Gaylesville girls 31
CENTRE - Senior forward Audrianna Hargitt posted 14 points, five rebounds and three steals in leading the Cedar Bluff Lady Tigers to a 48-31 victory over Gaylesville in the opening round of the Cherokee County Tournament on Friday.
Senior forward Hannah Leach added 13 points, eight boards and two steals for the Lady Tigers (12-8), who advance to meet top-seeded Cherokee County in the tournament semifinals on Saturday at 9 a.m. Junior guard Katie McGinnis contributed eight points, three rebounds and a steal. Freshman guard Delilah Price had six points and freshman forward Marigrace Wilson finished with four points and eight boards.
Freshman guard Lauren Hammett led Gaylesville (7-9) with 11 points. Junior center Alex Montgomery added 10 points junior guard Taylor Tomlin finished with six points.
Cedar Bluff jumped out to an 18-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter and held a 24-12 advantage at halftime. The Lady Tigers increased their lead to 41-17 at the end of three quarters.
Cherokee County 57, Gaylesville 17
CENTRE - Morgan Ray tallied a game-high 20 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead the Cherokee County B-team boys to a 57-17 victory over Gaylesville in the Cherokee County Tournament on Friday.
Logan Green added 14 points for the Warriors. Eric Lorenzana had eight points and Anthony Downey finished with six points.
C.J. Williamson led the Trojans with 10 points.
Cherokee County held a 22-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 38-13 advantage at halftime. The Warriors led 48-15 at the end of three quarters.
Cherokee County advances to the B-team boys championship on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.